Making bottle rockets is so much fun and guaranteed to excite even the most reluctant young rocket engineer. We’ve had a go at this activity and have put together a few suggestions to help you make it a success. You can find the bottle rockets activity sheet here.
Once you’ve gathered your materials, the first step is to decorate the rocket. You can use any materials for this and let your imagination go wild. We kept it simple with some silver bubble wrap decorations. We suggest you look at images of actual rockets for inspiration and ask your class consider the purpose of each feature (e.g. to make it more aerodynamic).
Rocket looking fabulous, the next step is to design a base that it will fit securely within. We’d seen lots of rocket bases online that had been created by taping pencils onto the sides of the rocket. However, we found that this method was fiddly and that it was tricky to get a solid base. Not to mention the pencils got damaged and covered in vinegar! Instead, we opted to position our rocket in a box, cutting a hole for the bottle stopper to fit through. A cereal box works well for this, so long as the bottle stopper is elevated off the ground. We used some clear plastic packaging.
We were approaching time for launch. All that was left was to half fill the bottle with vinegar and then add the baking soda. The reason we recommend wrapping the baking soda in kitchen roll is to slow down the speed of reaction. You won’t want the rocket to launch as you’re inserting the cork! After a few unsuccessful attempts, we learnt that the best method is to roll the kitchen roll up and twist the ends together tightly, as though you were creating a Christmas cracker. This seemed to delay the reaction for the longest amount of time.
Finally we were ready to launch. Before adding the baking soda, make sure you set the experiment up outside. You will need plenty of space around you and should be away from windows etc. Rockets can be unpredictable! This experiment must always be attempted under adult supervision and we suggest children wear safety goggles to protect their eyes.
Once the baking soda is added, you have to act quickly. Firmly insert the bottle stopper. The firmer it is, the more pressure will build up inside the bottle as the chemical reaction between the acidic vinegar and the baking soda takes place. Then stand well back and watch the results! You will notice that the baking soda reacts with the acidic vinegar, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide. Eventually, the pressure of this gas gets so great that the bottle stopper flies off, releasing the rocket into the air.
Here’s a video of our bottle launch.
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